Media agencies - "a great place to work"

Martin Cowie, OMD's people & development director
By Martin Cowie, OMD's people & development director | 18 August 2015
Martin Cowie

A recent article in the Australian Finanical Review announced with great fanfare that Deloitte had scrapped performance reviews for its staff. It was with a certain amount of smugness that I thought "about time too", as at OMD we had banished performance reviews to the media dustbin two years ago.

It then occurred to me that the media industry as a whole seems to enjoy beating itself up but that maybe we are being hard on ourselves and are in fact, such as with scrapping performance reviews, actually leaders in the way we treat our employees.

We all know that media industry turnover is too high – 27% vs wider industry average of 13%. But these numbers are gradually getting better, with a 14 point reduction since 2008 according to the Media Federation of Australia (MFA).

The industry also continues to expand, increasing employees by 8.5% YOY to over 3000. With a constant expansion in numbers it is inevitable that ‘poaching’ from competitors will occur. Who can blame millennials from jumping ship when significant salary increases are waved in front of them, especially when the industry business model based on fine margins means entry salary levels are low compared to other industry's graduate employment opportunities.

The key is to increase supply. The MFA People committee - passionately chaired by Linda Wong - is extremely proactive in building strong ties with all universities that run communication courses. These courses are appraised and MFA accredited if deemed to have made the required standards. Education days for the lectures are run annually as well as industry introduction days for the students. At OMG we have become part of the actual university curriculums at CSU, Macquarie and RMIT by briefing students at with real live client briefs and judging their responses six weeks later.

So improving retention is a challenge but one that the industry has taken to with more innovation than most industries. As an industry, we don’t manufacture anything so our talent and their ideas is our business.

With an average industry age of 29 we are majority millennial; a mobile generation not willing to accept the status quo.

Career planning is key to this generation which was the thinking behind OMD replacing the dreaded performance reviews with career development plans, which are reviewed quarterly. Flexibility is important to millennials and is proven to increase productivity.

Group M’s ‘The Floor is Closed’ initiative of closing their agencies for a day positively encourages flexibility. Training is a major investment at OMD with our OMD Academy offering a range of courses equivalent to a university and for those that attend 10 or more they are awarded an OMD degree certificate.

Initiatives including MFA 5+ and NGen offer a wide range of learning opportunities and the MFA 5+ breakfasts include table mentors from all the member heads of agencies giving their time willingly.

Media agencies were late to the HR party. My predecessor at OMD, Carolyn Maloney, was one of the first in the industry.

Since then all agency groups have invested and the industry should be proud that the 2014 BRW Great Place To Work survey included 12 media agency entries - of which five made it into the top 50 – that is the top 50 of all Australian companies from all industries, not just advertising UM led the charge, reaching the heights of number four, and OMD are proud to have featured for six years in succession.

The GPTW awards are 70% based on staff feedback (30% written entry) so it’s the media agency staff that are rating themselves happy in their agencies. The absence of creative agencies in the list is quite striking.

Interestingly, of the 17 MFA People committee members, nine are from agency background; just over half. I would suggest that the lack of classical HR training of so many has led to the innovation that enables media agencies to be "Great Place to Work" employers. Media trained HR employees intuitively look at the needs of their customers (employees) first and deliver specific solutions that address their needs, rather than simply imposing traditional HR policies.

No one is pretending that media agencies don’t have challenges - majority millennial means a lack of older employees. But clearly the innovation that is winning awards is also good for the bottom line.

With agencies working on such fine margins any policies that can increase workforce productivity by even 10% is a lot of additional dollars and an excellent payback on investment. Media agencies may not be perfect but we are doing better than most.

Martin Cowie

People and development director



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